Nearly 800,000 people have been granted protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which former President Barack Obama created and the Trump administration rescinded on Tuesday. But unless Congress turns DACA into law, the end of the program will affect far more people than just those who participated in it. Tens of thousands of their children and relatives, as well as their local economies, could be directly affected as well.
Because of the parameters of who is allowed into the program, DACA participants often are in the early stages of their careers and are frequently breadwinners for families that can include young children as well as older parents and grandparents. Participants overwhelmingly come from what are known as mixed-status families, meaning that members have different immigration statuses, ranging from being undocumented to being a U.S. citizen. For these families, having a member with a work permit and a shield from deportation, as a DACA participant does, can provide not only the assurance that their lives won’t be upended, but also financial stability. Those protections are set to phase out over time according to the administration’s announcement.
To qualify for DACA, people must have been brought to the U.S. both before their 16th birthday and before mid-2007. They must also be in high school or have graduated or received a GED, which means they are mostly in their 20s and early 30s. Because most DACA participants came to the U.S. with their parents, their families usually reside in the U.S.
It’s those relatives who — beyond DACA participants themselves — will be most directly affected if the program’s protections end. Around the time the program began in 2012, people who were DACA-eligible had around 202,000 children, according to an analysis of 2009 to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank that generally supports liberal immigration policies. Most of those children were 4 years old or younger at the time the research was done, and nearly all were U.S. citizens. Not all of their parents necessarily applied for or were accepted into the program, but in a 2015 online survey, a quarter of DACA participants said they had a child who is a U.S. citizen.
Many DACA recipients also have other relatives who may rely on them. In the 2015 survey, 60 percent said they had a sibling who was a U.S. citizen, and more than three-quarters said they had a parent who was undocumented. Research has found that by having legal status, DACA participants can be “cultural brokers” to relatives who are undocumented, performing family functions that undocumented parents might be afraid to, like accompanying siblings to doctors’ appointments or going to parent-teacher conferences.
The administration has indicated that after DACA ends, participants wouldn’t necessarily become priorities for deportation. But eliminating the program would almost certainly lead to lost jobs and income for participants and their families. DACA increased both employment and income among those eligible for the program, according to research by Nolan Pope, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Pope found that 50,000 to 75,000 undocumented people gained employment by 2014 because of DACA. Pope also found that wages increased. Other research has also indicated that DACA improved the economic conditions of and the job opportunities for people in the program. In one online survey of DACA recipients, 71 percent said that their participation in DACA had helped their family financially. Those gains would likely be reversed if the program ended, Pope said.
And the threat of deportation alone would likely have a negative impact on families. Immigration-related stress and anxiety have been shown to have negative health effects — children of undocumented parents suffer high rates of anxiety, are more likely to be food insecure and show delayed cognitive development compared with other children. Generally, researchers believe the stress that stems from the fear of having a parent deported has far-reaching, negative effects on the health of children.
While families are likely to experience the most immediate impact beyond those participating in the program, the communities they live in could also be affected. Though there are DACA recipients in every state, people who are eligible for the program tend to be clustered geographically. As of March of this year, 222,795 people — more than a quarter of those who had been approved for DACA — lived in California at the time they applied. An additional 124,300 applicants were in Texas, and Illinois and New York were each home to more than 40,000 applicants. Collectively, those four states provided more than 50 percent of the people who had been approved for DACA since the program began.
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, estimated that the economies of California and Texas would lose $11.6 billion and $6.3 billion, respectively, each year if these workers were removed from the U.S. The libertarian Cato Institute estimates that ending the program would lead to $60 billion in lost revenue to the federal government over a decade, as well as a $280 billion reduction in economic growth during that time. That’s a small share of those giant state economies and the federal budget, but as recipients tend live in certain cities and neighborhoods, local communities are likely to see some impact. People who are DACA-eligible also tend to be employed in certain job sectors, including food service and sales; ending the program could create a noticeable effect on those industries in certain areas.
There are also the people who would enter the program if it doesn’t end. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that as of last year, 1.3 million people were immediately eligible to apply for the program. But that number could soon grow to 1.9 million — 228,000 children who were younger than 15 (too young to qualify) could age into the program, according to the institute, and an additional 398,000 were lacking only a high school diploma or its equivalent.
In the hours after the Trump administration’s announcement, members of Congress started to call for a long-term, legislative fix for people who qualify for the program, as did President Trump. If they don’t pass one, approximately 300,000 people with DACA will lose their legal status in 2018, as will at least as many more in 2019. And the remaining permits will expire in 2020.